What is open-ended art... and why your kids will LOVE it!

It’s common for art teachers to follow the tried and true method of teaching art.

  1. Demonstrate a technique and a process

  2. Introduce kids to the materials

  3. Instruct them to follow the instructions to replicate the project on their own

Many kids LOVE this way of making art. It basically guarantees a great-looking project will result as long as they follow the tutorial. This can be satisfying.

It can also be stifling.

What if the child has their own idea and gets off track? Their project won’t look like the others. Because it looks different, does this mean their project is wrong?

Some kids may feel that way, and so this kind of learning trains them to stay on the straight and narrow. It teaches them not to think outside the box.

What is open-ended art? And... why your kids will LOVE it!

I love the philosophy of ‘begin with the end in mind.’ It’s especially helpful advice when you’re exploring art (or anything) with your kids. Ask yourself: What’s the purpose of this? What do I hope my kids will learn?

With art, your answers may be… creative exploration, a broader worldview, to get a glimpse into the past, to appreciate beauty, to explore their inner thoughts and feelings, to experiment with color, etc.

Your end result probably isn’t ‘so my kids can learn to follow directions.’

Although it is a great skill to have, art is not the place to learn it. Yet, this is the common approach used by lots and lots of teachers!

It’s easy to go along and continue to do things the way they’ve always been done. But if you stop to question why, there may not be a good reason.

In our homeschool, we can choose to follow any philosophy we’d like! So, when it comes to art I’d like to invite you to try out some open-ended art activities with your kids.

What is open-ended art?

It’s art without directions!

Sometimes there are loose prompts, or vague invitations. But there are no directions or tutorials in open-ended art. The whole point of it is for your kids to experiment and explore! To get creative. See what works. And, in the end, they will feel a sense of ownership that they never would have felt with a step-by-step activity… no matter how beautifully it turned out.

How you can get started

It’s really as simple as setting up an accessible art area, and inviting your kids to create something. If you are studying a specific artist, they can draw inspiration from their style, technique, color palette, composition, etc… but they shouldn’t directly copy the artist.

So, let’s say you’re studying van Gogh. You may invite your kids to explore a swirly painting technique. Or to paint something using complimentary colors. Or to use a palette knife or the handle of their brush to apply thick globs of paint, like many Post Impressionist painters did.

There may be a starting point, or a suggestion to consider, but open-ended art is always open for interpretation.

Think of it this way… if I gave this prompt to 10 different kids, would I see 10 totally different works of art in the end? If the answer is yes, then your project is open-ended!

Kids should always feel free to come up with their own take on the art, or even try something entirely different. They should simply follow their own artistic interests.

There are so many amazing benefits to creating open-ended art.

  • Kids are expected to make their own decisions– they get confidence!

  • It promotes a growth mindset, inviting kids to re-evaluate when things don’t turn out as expected and to explore a new direction.

  • With endless possibilities in their imagination, kids tap into their inner creativity in a powerful new way!

So, the next time you study an artist with your kids, or you’re exploring a new art material or technique, leave the direction of the project up to them and see what happens. This kind of art is truly an exploration. There are no guarantees that it will ‘turn out’ like a tutorial style project, but there are also no expectations of your kids (and so the fear of doing something wrong is completely gone). If this is a new way for your kids to explore art because they’re used to doing step-by-step crafts or following video demos, it may take a little time to get used to. But the benefits will be crystal clear when you notice they’ve begun to find their own voice as an artist, and to get comfortable with the process of exploration and experimentation.

It’s a magical thing to see!

Make sure to hop into our private Facebook community to connect with other homeschool parents, and to show off your kids’ amazing artwork. And if you have any questions about open-ended art, we can chat about it!